Once again, the Bush administration's initiative to study federal jobs and see what commercial activities can be turned over to the private sector is creating background noise, and some friction, on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) recently surprised the administration when the House, on a vote of 238 to 177, accepted his amendment to stop the Federal Aviation Administration from going forward with a $1.9 billion contract that would allow Lockheed Martin Corp. to take over general aviation flight services performed by about 2,500 FAA employees.
"This privatization scheme is a bad idea," Sanders said during floor debate in the House on the fiscal 2006 transportation and treasury appropriations bill.
The bill's manager, Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), said Lockheed Martin has promised to offer jobs to displaced FAA employees, stressing that "the contract was fairly bid."
The spending bill also was amended by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). His provision, accepted on a 222 to 203 vote, would prohibit the government from using the 2003 rewrite of Office of Management and Budget's rule book for contracting out federal services. Van Hollen said he wants OMB to "fashion a new set of rules that make sense for everybody."
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) spoke against Van Hollen, saying that his provision would "wipe out the president's management agenda."
In the Senate, an appropriations subcommittee included a provision in the transportation-treasury bill at the urging of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) that would guarantee that federal employees could submit their best bids and would require contractors to show projected savings of at least 10 percent or $10 million.
Mikulski called the provision "the first step in leveling the playing field for federal employees." The provision was included with the support of the subcommittee chairman, Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.).
Other bills also place curbs on outsourcing of federal jobs.
The House version of the Defense Department appropriations bill includes restrictions similar to Mikulski's and stipulates that a contractor should not gain an advantage in bidding because of savings that result from not offering health insurance to employees. The House's Defense authorization bill would require formal cost comparisons in most studies and expresses Congress's sense that Defense employees "should receive comparable treatment as contractors throughout the process of a public-private competition."
The House and Senate spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security would bar private contractors from doing work performed by immigration information officers, and the House version of the Agriculture Department spending bill would prohibit contracting for rural development work or farm loan programs without specific authorization from Congress.
Other House bills would limit spending on competitive sourcing at the Army Corps of Engineers and at the Forest Service.
The Bush administration has promised to lobby against provisions that would curb the competitive sourcing initiative, and has threatened a veto of the transportation-treasury bill. OMB claims that competitive sourcing should save taxpayers billions of dollars over the next five years because it forces agencies to operate more efficiently. About 90 percent of the competitions are won by federal employees, OMB said.
The American Federation of Government Employees and other unions have been aggressive in lobbying for the restrictions and vow to keep it up. This week, John Gage, the AFGE president, praised the Mikulski-Bond provision as "an excellent beginning."
The Professional Services Council, the Contract Services Association and other industry groups are frustrated. "I don't know an issue that is so surrounded by mythology," said Stan Soloway, president of the services council.
Industry leaders hope that the administration can strip out the provisions this year when House and Senate negotiators meet to strike their legislative compromises.
Michael Dovilla, executive director of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council at the Office of Personnel Management, and Claudia Cross, chief human capital officer at the Energy Department, will be the guests on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com and WFED (1050 AM).
Kathleen Turco, chief financial officer at the General Services Administration, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. Saturday on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).
"Workplace Violence" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).
Diary associate Eric Yoder contributed to this column.